The Case for a Creator: Astroturfing Science

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 4

Lee Strobel’s usual interview technique is to ask softball questions that are carefully phrased to make it as easy as possible for his interviewees to “refute” them. But credit where credit’s due – in the next section of chapter 4, he actually asks a good one. In talking to ID advocate Stephen Meyer, he brings up the evidence I discussed in my previous post:

“If the scientific evidence for theism is so compelling… then why don’t more scientists believe in God? A study in 1966 showed that sixty percent of scientists either disbelieve or were doubtful about God, and the percentage goes up if you look at the most elite scientists.” [p.84]

Then again, maybe I’m still being too easy on Strobel. After all, he only refers to a survey done in 1966, which allows Meyer the convenient out of claiming that “the best evidence for theism is very new” [p.84], and perhaps not all scientists are aware of it. However, he doesn’t explain what “new” evidence he has in mind. (The Big Bang, after all, has been well-accepted scientific truth for decades, and most intelligent-design arguments such as irreducible complexity are little different from arguments creationists have been making for a long time – since Paley, even!) In any case, more recent studies, such as the one I cited from 1998, show the same high rates of disbelief among leading scientists. Why hasn’t all this “new” evidence started changing people’s minds yet?

This leads us to the all-purpose creationist excuse: those nasty, mean materialists are oppressing us!

“Also, the materialistic worldview has exercised dominance on intellectual life in western culture for a hundred and fifty years. It has become the default worldview in science… Some people who dissent from it have experienced intense hostility and sometimes persecution.” [p.84]

Indeed, those poor, put-upon theists are under constant assault. Why, do you remember that time in the 70s when angry mobs of evolutionists went on the rampage, shooting at church buses and firebombing chapels, all because they were upset about Christianity being taught in Sunday school?

Of course you don’t, because it happened the other way around. As I mentioned at the time, Strobel carefully refrained from drawing any lessons from that unpleasant episode. It’s a shame he doesn’t hearken back to it here, because it would demonstrate an important point: if you’re going to make an honest accounting of who’s persecuting whom, creationists routinely resort to intimidation and even veiled threats, whereas the worst “persecution” experienced by creationists is that scientists are unconvinced by their ideas.

I also note that Meyer refrains from drawing any conclusions on why the “materialistic worldview” has become dominant in science. To admit the obvious – that scientific naturalism has become dominant because of its demonstrated success, whereas centuries of religious faith and church edict failed to make any measurable contribution to our understanding of the world – would perhaps undermine the story he wants to tell.

But I give him credit for audacity. In his next point, he attempts a rhetorical judo move. Strobel asks, “almost all the people… in the Intelligent Design movement are Christians. Doesn’t that undermine the legitimacy of their science?” [p.85] and Meyer responds by citing the data on atheism just mentioned by Strobel, arguing that it could be used to establish the very same conclusion:

“The vast majority of people who advocate Darwinism are naturalists or materialists, so you could play the motive-mongering game either way.” [p.85]

It almost sounds like a good point. But Meyer hasn’t mentioned one especially important piece of evidence which goes to establish motive in a very relevant way.

In 1999, a copy of a secret Discovery Institute paper, the “Wedge Document“, was leaked onto the internet. (The original document was stamped “Top Secret” and “Not for Distribution”). The Wedge Document was written by the founders of the intelligent-design movement and lays out their goal: “to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions”; “to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God.” This would lead to “spiritual renewal’ in society at large and “positive uptake in public opinion polls on issues such as sexuality, abortion and belief in God”. One scarcely need ask which positions on abortion and sexuality would be strengthened by this so-called positive uptake.

This is the important point. The problem isn’t that ID advocates are Christian – there are plenty of good scientists who are Christian, like Allan Sandage, and there are even plenty of good scientists who are Christian and accept evolution. The problem is that prominent ID advocates have admitted that their intent in founding the ID movement was ideological – they want to overthrow evolution so that more people would believe in God and adopt the specific political positions they favor. That is not a motive likely to lead to good science.

The ID advocates are doing the scientific equivalent of “astroturfing” – the sleazy technique used by wealthy corporations or special-interest lobbies that pay people to masquerade as regular concerned citizens. In the same way, ID advocates are religious proselytizers masquerading as disinterested scientists in order to advance the political aims they genuinely care about.

Other posts in this series:

Scott Adams Can't See the Elephant
The Democritean Dance
A World on Our Doorstep
Human Reproduction Is Ridiculous
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.